ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – Today community groups and residents of the South Valley appealed a decision from the Bernalillo County Planning Commission in the Santolina mega-development case. The Planning Commission recommends stripping key provisions that require the Santolina developers to prove that its project has water. The appeal was filed with the Bernalillo County Commission (BCC), which is tentatively slated to take up the issue in August.

The appeal addresses a request by developers to remove three critical water conditions from the BCC’s approval of Santolina’s Level A Master Plan. Two years after these conditions were put into place, however, Santolina still has no Agreement with the Water Authority.

Amended Appeal Part 1  |  Amended Appeal Part 2

These conditions require that, before BCC will consider whether or not to approve Santolina’s Level B.1 Master Plan, developers must provide a fully executed Development Agreement with the Albuquerque-Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority (Water Authority). This Agreement, along with other details, would furnish proof that Santolina has the requisite water to supply the estimated 90,000 residents of the project.

The Planning Commission’s decision to recommend their removal was made at a June 7 hearing, in spite of a court ruling five days earlier that invalidates the Level A approvals for the project.

In the appeal, the New Mexico Environmental Law Center (NMELC) asks the BCC to defer its consideration of the Planning Commission’s recommendation while Santolina lacks valid Level A approvals. If the BCC refuses to defer the decision, the appeal asks the BCC to reject the Planning Commission’s recommendation that the conditions be stripped from the BCC’s approval of the Level A Master Plan.

“With this decision, the Bernalillo County Planning Commission decided to ignore and jeopardize the regions water supply,” says James “Santiago” Maestas, President of the South Valley Regional Association of Acequias. “We urge the Bernalillo County Commission to finally do the right thing about Santolina, and rule in favor of this appeal for the sake of our communities and our water.”

“My neighbors in the South Valley want to know why the Bernalillo County Commission doesn’t just put the brakes on the whole Santolina development process,” says Roberto Roibal of SouthWest Organizing Project. “The District Court has ruled that the zoning approval for the Santolina development should be remanded back to the County Commission. Why then is the County Planning Commission and the County Commission continuing to have hearings on the Level B plan when they have to start all over for the Level A Master Plan zoning?”

“As Judge Nancy Franchini’s June 2 decision illustrates, the law is on our side when it comes to providing due process to the people of Albuquerque and Bernalillo County,” says Jaimie Park, NMELC Staff Attorney. “As long as Bernalillo County decision-makers allow Santolina to subvert the system, we will challenge them. These officials are playing a dangerous game with the region’s water, and if they don’t bring water into the conversation, it’s a game we all are going to lose.”

Key arguments in the appeal:

  • The District Court ruling invalidates the zoning change for Santolina from “A-1 Rural-Agricultural” to “Planned Communities”. Because the zone change is fundamental to the process, the ruling invalidates all of BCC’s subsequent decisions on Santolina and voids the Level A approvals for Santolina.
  • Under Bernalillo County’s Planned Communities Criteria, Santolina developers are required to prove they have water for the project. They have failed to do so.
  • BCC cannot make informed decisions about the project and its substantial impacts on the region without meaningful water data.
  • If BCC grants Santolina’s request and pushes these water requirements to the Level C process, there will be no review by BCC and no opportunity for public input into the decision.
  • The Planning Commission erred when it accepted new evidence into the record which had not been made public prior to the proceeding. Further, it allowed no cross-examination on the new evidence.
  • The Planning Commissioner Johnny Peña failed to disclose that his wife is employed by an organization that owns property that would be developed within the Santolina project and the Planning Commission did not hold a vote on his recusal.

Appellants include SouthWest Organizing Project, New Mexico Health Equity Working Group, Pajarito Village Association, Center for Social Sustainable Systems*, South Valley Coalition of Neighborhood Associations*, South Valley Regional Association of Acequias*, and eight individuals.

The conditions that Santolina developer seek to strike from the Level A approvals can also be found in the BCC Notice of Decision, dated June 19, 2015.

*New clients, including four additional individuals, added to the legal effort to challenge the massive Santolina project and its potential impacts on water, communities and local agriculture.

New Mexico Environmental Law Center is celebrating 30 years of fighting for environmental justice for the people of New Mexico. The NMELC’s mission is to protect New Mexico’s communities and their air, land and water in the fight for environmental justice.